Two videos (one is in two parts) give us rare look behind the veil of artistic creativity. The arts are only the most obvious expressions of human creativity. But creativity is everywhere. At it's apex it is hard work, even for the most brilliant practitioners. One of those crafts, still plying his trade of musical theatre is Stephen Sondheim—best known to the public at large for his song "Send In the Clowns" (popularized by Judy Collins) and taken from his musical "A Little Night Music."
You may also know Sondheim via the Tim Burton-directed film version of the stage musical "Sweeney Todd", starring Johnny Depp. ("Sweeney Todd", the stage version, is my favorite, all-time, musical.)
How do they write all those songs that entertain while moving the story along. And what happens when the entire musical—Pacific Overtures—is based on actual historic events and the pivotal moment in the story has NO accurate historical records.
I found the fascinating video, below, of how playwright John Weidman and composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim solved this exact problem to tell the story of a treaty signing in the mid 1800's. [It is two parts. You will see Part 2 on the screen as part 1stops.]
And here is the finished scene in the original, 1976, Broadway production of "Pacific Overtures"—directed by the brilliant Hal Prince.
And for "extra credit" - - here is a photo of the "Someone In A Tree" scene from the Orange Coast Theatre production. The bald actor (right of center) is the lead character of the "Reciter." It's me. (I shaved my head, nightly.)
In the photo the ladder represents the tree, with the boy "in the tree" and the old man (between the tree and me) is tell his version of the story. The actor in reddish costume is the warrior hidden under the "treaty house" telling us what he heard. (All the other people on stage are "stage mangers"—wearing black—and are "invisible."
To make certain you know that it is me, the second photo is me during the closing monologue. This role was the most rewarding experience —as an actor—thus far in my life on stage.
Both photos were shot by or scenic designer Peter Xifo, who gave me the privilege of working with him on his kabuki-style set design.
P.S. The Los Angeles Times gave us a glowing review: including the full production, Peter's scenic design, and they liked me. I loved doing "Pacific Overtures."
The entire Broadway production was shot for television to be shown in Japan. The taping was done during the Los Angels run of the Broadway cast. It is an entertaining and fascinating production. As in kabuki theatre, all the roles (both male and female characters) are played by men. The role I played , the Reciter, opens and closes the shows, narrates (and is on stage) for all but one scene, and plays a handful of other characters. The "Reciter" in the Broadway production was played by Japanese-American actor Mako (Sand Pebbles.) His broken speech is the way he speaks. It is not an affect for the role. I used no affectation of Japanese "accent."
Here is the full Broadway production (2:20). Let me know what you think if you watch it. It is a masterful achievement of human creativity on every level of the production.
YouTube also has the full, 1982, Broadway production of Sweeney Todd, starring Len Cariou (A Little Night Music and TV's Blue Bloods) and Angela Lansbury. I was able to see the second "preview" perfromance on Broadway from sixth row, center ..."house seat" I bought twenty-minutes before curtain.